Helping

It was difficult to read a text from my mom this morning frantically asking if my friends were safe, and not have an immediate answer. It was hard to look at pictures of festival attendees clutching the ground, even as people worked hard as ever to help each other climb fences and hide behind cars and barriers. It has been so excruciating to read the accounts, especially from a family member, who returned safely home today. Trauma will be lasting and deeply impacting of life hereafter.

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Photo by Robert Collins on Unsplash

I will never know the pain of presence, of witnessing the bloodshed, and certainly the absolute horror that is losing a family member whose life was stolen mercilessly while participating in community and enjoying art. I don’t have answers, though I know complacency and “thoughts and prayers” completely fail time and again to prevent toxic masculinity from exploding and reaping toxicity on people who are loved, who love.

As a former full-time college chaplain, I remember trying to hold a container for students when a terrible event, whether nationally recognized or personally felt (or both) fell upon them, unexpected and unwarranted. It is by the far the most challenging piece of this vocation, yet the most important. This is a daily occurrence, not once in a while. Even though the vigils and times of remembrance seem reserved for the “big” tragedies, feeling unsafe is a reality for so many students. Events like this reinforce the false notion that safe spaces exist. So as chaplains, or therapists, or listeners who are in a “helping profession,” what are we to do? We must do, not just think and pray.

For starters, we can be frank that this “problem” is multifaceted and definitely a dire product of racism, white supremacy, masculinity. I cannot advise anyone to “keep living” or “enjoy life” despite the fear, even though many students recognize that doing just that is a form of resistance. Of course, how to live one’s best life can only be defined by the individual. Being honest, uncomfortable and vulnerable, especially in how we uphold a culture of violence, allows students to witness this behavior and model it. Frankly, I often found myself following their lead as some of the most effective leaders and activists not only on campus, but in the country. An excruciating tragedy requires no legitimizing, but demands authentic admission of shortcomings and failure.

One such amazing student leader recently published an honest, raw and informative blog on the Interfaith Youth Core’s writing platform Inter and I firmly believe it deserves a good slow read from those of us “helpers,” whatever our particular title. She names the work young leaders of faith continue to do often without recognition. Martha writes,

Faced with another national tragedy, with more than 50 people dead and 500 people injured, millennials of faith are showing up for values-based policies and standing firm for the truth that we can have movements that don’t discriminate. We can use our solidarity to overcome division and heal after trauma. We can keep our communities safe without the use of fear and bigotry. And we will do so, together.

Read Martha’s blog here. She writes from experience and a deep passion for interfaith activism and movements. Healing, like living, is another act of much needed resistance and examination.

 

 

 

Labor

It’s the end of Labor Day Weekend, traditionally a transitional weekend. Even though the temperature this past week in Los Angeles has climbed over 100 every day, I admit that pumpkins and apples have been appearing in my feeds and emails. Fall is near. Many of us live according to an academic calendar, which means we have just started a new school year (if you’re on the quarter system, we’ve got a few more weeks!). Excitement and anxiety and anticipation abound, and Tuesday morning traffic has returned to ever freeway in southern California in full force.

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Photo by Mariano Rossi on Unsplash

I just finished reading Diane Guerrero’s In the Country We Love yesterday. In case her name isn’t immediately familiar, Guerrero plays Maritza in the Netflix series Orange is the New Black and Lina on Jane the Virgin. She also happens to be a best-selling memoirist. Her book details the story of growing up in Boston in a family of Colombian immigrants, she the only US-born member. Since everyone should read this book I won’t give everything away, but the crux of the story is the scene in which Guerrero returns home from school at age 14 and finds her parents have been taken by ICE. Within weeks, they are both deported back to Columbia, and Guerrero is left totally alone as a new high school freshman.

With the decision to end DACA confirmed this week, Guerrero’s book feels more than relevant, it should be a textbook read for all of us. As many of us enjoyed a day free from labor yesterday, at least in a formal sense, I thought about Guerrero’s daily struggle with a different, invisible kind of labor- emotional labor. Her situation forces her to grow up years beyond emotionally in a matter of days. The emotional struggle translates to many physical issues, and an especially chilling scene shook me to my core. The thing about her story is that 800,000 DACA-mented folx and other undocumented people in the United States struggle through a similar narrative every day.

This emotional labor often takes a much larger toll than many realize. For a few years I have sought out and listened to stories of immigrants in the United States, their statuses mixed. It seemed like the best way to engage. This will never make me understand the struggle, mind you. The stories I heard made me consider mindless choices I make every single day, like booking a flight and putting my address, applying for a part-time job, or even walking in public places. The emotional labor of these decisions for undocumented folx hangs in the air every day, until their meaning is internalized. Unknown. Unrecognized. Unwanted. The labor it takes to live a full life despite these internalized attitudes is one that does not allow a day off.

As the season of new school years pushes off the dock, I think my emotional labor should involve more listening and awareness around the internalized attitudes that create roadblocks. My roadblock this week comes from deep-seeded anger. It’s an anger that can only prove productive if it drives me to keep working.

Eclipse

Today something historic happened! This is true every day, of course, but today a total solar eclipse took over the internet and several million people across the United States donned special glasses and cut holes in cereal boxes in order to see the eerily gray and red circle in the sky. In some places, complete darkness fell for only moments. To be honest, I tried to witness the event in Southern California and only really noticed weird lighting for a while. Then the bright sunny sky came back and a normal August day continued on with reading and writing and French verb conjugations.

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Photo by Jesse Belleque on Unsplash

I decided to do some research about the spiritual significance of solar eclipses over the course of recorded history. Several themes emerged. Several cultures saw eclipses as signs of deep change or uncertainty approaching. Others saw it as a time for celebration, and threw huge feasts. Some sacred texts mention events that allude to something like an eclipse. Take Joel 2:31 in the bible, for instance: “The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the LORD.”* Sounds pretty weighted. Lama Zopa Rinpoche, a Tibetan Buddhist Scholar and Lama, suggests that during the eclipse merits multipled by 100 million, and offered recitation of the 35 Confession Buddhas or reciting particular mantras as ways to reap the benefits. With network news on in the background as I cooked dinner this evening, I realized the eclipse points to something else important, especially in this politically rancid time: a change in habit.

Every morning we expect to wake up and see the sun rise, go about our days, and notice the sun set finally in the evening. I rarely consider how life would go on if one day the light never came. This is not to suggest light is superior to darkness, the balance of both and the seasons of waxing and waning also demonstrate longer habits we expect to continue. The brief moment today when the light in the sky looked almost as if a huge fire were blazing and smoke was billowing caused me to pause in my own daily routine and consider the spiritual gift of habit and expectation. Ritual, whether in a sacred space or at bedtime, helps us evade discomfort with uncertainty, if only for a moment. Even holidays and celebrations that mark “special” times still fall into an expectation that this particular time is marked by non-regularity. I felt uplifted that folx everywhere today paused their daily lives to go outside and experience wonder. Habit can be a very useful, helpful course to follow, and breaking habit once in a while helps us deepen perspective on why.

Speaking of habits, I also found today that I believe tradition should be challenged mercilessly and often. I’ve grown up in a family deeply rooted in tradition in everything from Christmas day cinnamon rolls to learning the Fight On sign before I could speak a full sentence. Traditions ground us and give us sacred resonance. But just because something has been done forever does not mean it is right for now. The sun may one day hide and not rise because on that day, it serves no benefit. This is a bit of a side note, but this post is atypical for a reason. Happy eclipse-ing. I leave with Thich Nhat Hanh’s wisdom: “Waking up in the morning, I smile. Twenty-four brand new hours are before me. I vow to live fully in each moment and to look at all beings with eyes of compassion.”

*This translation is from the New International Version